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Brussel Sprouts are one of the most controversial foods in the world and are widely regarded as the 'Ugly Duckling' of veggies. Some people opine that they are miniature cabbages, while to others, they are just the bigger headed cousins to broccoli. The most common assertion across the board is that Brussels sprouts generally taste bad.
Now, I will admit that for the longest time, I hated - nay, loathed these bitter veggies from a very young age, thanks to my mom, who repeatedly fixed them in the casseroles. My turning point was when I honored a college friend's New Year's Eve dinner invitation.
In particular, he asked me to try out his 'lit' vegetable salad and I couldn't get enough of the tiny, crispy, blanched greens that stood out amongst the pomegranates, jicamas, tomatoes and cucumbers. After a small Q&A session, I discovered that unlike most veggies, Brussel sprouts are quite sensitive to the cooking method used, and can be extremely sweet if prepared well.
After leaving my pal's house, I did some further research on Brussel sprouts and found out that they are more nutritious than most vegetables, and can be used in all sorts of meals. The purpose of this article is to share with you what I think is the best way to cook Brussels sprouts for the enjoyment of everyone in your family.
But before that, how about a little backstory?
What are Brussel Sprouts?
Brussel Sprouts belong to a group of plants called cruciferous vegetables, which is essentially a family of green-leaf vegetables that have blossoms shaped like crosses. Other cruciferous vegetables, also known as kale vegetables, include cabbages, broccoli, kale, cauliflower and bok choy - all these plants were first grown in Europe.
Brussels sprouts mainly come in two colors; classic green and purple. The green varieties are the most common, and you'll probably find them at your local store. However, both types taste almost the same, and the purple ones turn green when cooking.
How to Choose the Perfect Brussels Sprouts
The first thing you look for when shopping for Brussels sprouts is the COLOR. And the rule of thumb here is; the more pronounced the color, the sweeter the sprout.
The next thing to look at is the SIZE OF THE BUDS. From my experience, the smaller ones were easier to cook and were tastier than the big ones. Size does matter after all, huh?
In regards to packaging, you'll find that the spouts packed in loosely closed plastic packaging stay fresh for longer than those in open net bags. Some stores may also refrigerate their Brussels sprouts as a form of "frost treatment". You will find that frozen sprouts are much sweeter than normal Brussels sprouts, since the freezing cold temperatures deactivates a majority of the bitter substances, and converts the innate starch into sugar.
OK, so you went and got your top-grade Brussels sprouts, but it's still a few days before your planned cooking date. How do you keep them rich green and fresh till then?
The Right Way to Store Brussels Sprouts
One thing I found out the hard way is that Brussels sprouts are more sensitive to temperatures than most types of cabbages. They, like most winter vegetables, literally ‘hate’ heat, and won't last for more than 2 days in a room-temperature environment.
*Come to think of it, can you remember any other winter vegetables off the dome? Yeah, same.
Anyways, the best way to store your Brussels sprouts is in the fridge - specifically the chilled vegetable compartment. That way, they will stay fresh for about 5-8 days, which is quite commendable for an otherwise highly perishable veggie.
To be safe, avoid storing your sprouts anywhere near ripening fruits (apples, avocados, kiwis, tomatoes, etc) as they produce ethylene. Sustained exposure to the gas could make the buds in your Brussels sprouts wither or get discolored - and thereby turn flavorless - very fast, even in chilled environments.
I know you can't wait to get started on the recipes, but I thought it would really help you make better Brussels sprouts-based meals if you were armed with the above knowledge.
How to Prepare Brussels Sprouts
As great as they are, you can't take Brussels sprouts as a stand-alone meal. Well, technically you can, but you know what I mean.
Accordingly, we'll discuss how you can prepare Brussels sprouts as accompaniments to several common meals. But before that, here are some general prep tips to get the veggie ready for cooking:
They say the end justifies the means, but where Brussels sprouts are concerned, the means determine the end product. Properly selecting and preparing your sprouts is much more important to the overall flavor of your meal than the cooking process itself.
Best Way to Cook Brussel Sprouts
I'm not one to brag (or am I?) but I don't really have a favorite way of making Brussel sprouts as every method works for me. However, I will highlight 3 of my most popular methods (according to my guests) and you can choose your favorite among them.
So here we go:
Method 1: Boiling
This is one of the easiest and fastest ways to make Brussels sprouts and is especially recommended for newbies. For this, you will need:
1. Fill the pan halfway with water and then bring it to a boil. Add the sprouts - of course after washing and cutting them up if they are big - then let them simmer on reduced heat for about 5 minutes.
2. After the 5 minutes are over, pierce a few buds using a sharp knife to see if they're sufficiently tenderized. If not, let them simmer for a minute or two. If well cooked, drain the water off the pan and get to the next step.
3. Add about 50g of butter into the pan with the sprouts and stir until all of them are well coated. You may also sprinkle in some seasoning (my favorites are balsamic vinegar and basil powder) for enhanced taste. Let the sprouts cook for 2 more minutes on medium heat, and that's about it.
The whole process takes less than 10 minutes and results in a delicious snack that can go well with any of your favorite dishes, from rice to beef and even fish.
Method 2: Roasting
Roasting vegetables is not something you would normally do but, then again, Brussels sprouts are not your everyday veggie. Roasting your Brussels sprouts can bring out all the hidden flavors, and give them some exceptionally crispy edges.
Here's a quick roasting technique that works quite well:
1. Wash your sprouts and toss them in a shallow bowl with little olive oil and seasoning
2. Heat your grill to high. Medium heat can also do if you want to be extra careful. However, high heat gives you more caramelization within a shorter time.
3. If you have some metal skewers, thread your spouts on to them, with the stem sides facing the same direction. Maintain a 1/2 inch space between each sprout on the skewer while at it.
4. Place the skewered sprouts on the grill, making sure to keep the stem sides closer to the fire.
5. If your grill is on high, the first side will be cooked within 5 minutes, and you can then turn your skewers. If on medium heat, it takes about 8-9 minutes for each side to cook.
6. Once all the sprouts are sufficiently tender and cooked through, garnish with flaky sea salt, or parmesan and serve immediately.
Method 3: Deep Frying
Chances are that you don't like deep-fried foods (I also don't, for the record), but what if I told you that there's a healthy way of deep-frying Brussels sprouts? What more, deep frying is way faster and less risky (no flavor losses) than the other two methods.
So how do you go about it?
1. To start with, you need to use a healthy choice of oil, ideally saturated oils, such as coconut oil, olive oil, or avocado oil. Heat the oil on a heavy saucepan until it attains a temperature of 190°C. This is extremely important, and it is advisable to use a thermometer to ensure the temperature is exact. If you don't have one, you can use a slice of bread; basically hold it over the saucepan and if it browns within 15 seconds, you know that the right temperature has been achieved.
2. Carefully drop the sprouts into the oil and let it cook for about 3 minutes. You want them to be deep brown on the outside and tender on the inside.
3. Drain the excess oil off the sprouts using paper towels and garnish with sea salt and lemon juice, then serve.
The whole process takes less than 10 minutes to prepare and cook, which makes this method ideal for weekday mornings when you don't have much time, but want to have your fix of Brussels sprouts.
I made sure to highlight more than one specific recipe so that I can cater to everyone. Each of the methods discussed has its own pros and cons and brings out a different flavor on Brussels sprouts, and you may want to try out all 3 methods to identify what works for you.
Oh, and one more thing...
If you end up with some leftover sprouts (yeah, it's hard but very possible), it is important that you store them properly, so they don't lose their flavor. For one, avoid freezing them as it messes up the texture and flavor. Instead, let them get completely cold and dry, then enclose them in a bowl until the next day. As for reheating, you can use olive oil and a saucepan, or the microwave - there's no much difference!
And if you really, really have to freeze your leftovers, know you can't warm them up the normal way. You can, however, use them in a quick bubble and squeak.